Whether you were raised in the region, or you’re dying to introduce your taste buds to some new flavors, Filipino food offers comfort and variety. However, many classic Filipino dishes are centered around meat, making it off limits to the vegan lifestyle — that is, without some alterations. With the right ingredients in the pantry and a passion for the central flavors of the area, you can enjoy many dishes that speak to the Filipino culture and your vegan gastronomy.
What exactly is Filipino food?
Put simply: It refers to foods traditional to the Philippines. However, that might be oversimplifying a culinary blend of a country made up of some 7,000 islands that is heavily influenced by the rest of Southeast Asia. They also have historical imprints from countries that controlled the Philippines over the past 600 years or so and location along major travel routes.
Traditional Filipino ingredients
Once you’ve tried a few Filipino dishes, you’ll find there are ingredients that pop up again and again, so it’s a good time to stock the pantry and fridge to have them on hand. Many items can be found at mainstream grocery stores, including tofu, soy sauce, sugar, potatoes, vegetables and rice.
Other ingredients are similar to what you can find in an American market, but are not the same as the Filipino version. For example, vinegar is an essential ingredient, but it’s not rice wine, red wine, balsamic, apple cider or white distilled that are common here in the U.S. Filipino vinegar is traditionally made from sugarcane, palm or coconut. Calamansi and sampaloc are also in many recipes. They are tropical citrus fruits common for their tart flavor. On the other end of the spectrum is ube, a purple yam used in many Filipino desserts.
To serve vegan Filipino food, you’ll need to also make some substitutions. For example, traditional Filipino fish sauce can be replaced with any vegan fish, Thai or Vietnamese sauce.
You might also want to pick up a bit of Filipino lingo so you can translate tokwa into tofu and kabute into mushroom.
Adobo is perhaps one of the most ubiquitous dishes of the Philippines. Traditionally, it’s a dish that relies on chicken or pork, but The Foodie Takes Flight offers two vegan adobo recipes — one with soy chunks and the other with potatoes or extra firm tofu, mushrooms and dried bean curd/tofu skin. Salu Salo offers another variation in this eggplant adobo. If you’re a pineapple fan, this adobo sa gata puts the fruit front and center. Finally, we have one more option with The Woks of Life and their vegan adobo.
In essence, this is what you might recognize as an egg roll. While it is deep fried for that ever-appealing taste, lumpia is filled with some unexpected ingredients. In fact, it can be filled with just about anything. Try some plant-based meat and vegetable combo in this vegan lumpiang Shanghai by Sweet Simple Vegan. Allplants offers another variation filled with veggies and mincemeat or mushrooms in this vegan lumpia. In the vegan world, tofu is a ubiquitous substitute for many ingredients, so it seems like a natural fit alongside vegetables and seasons in this vegan lumpia Shanghai with tofu and vegetables. Lumpia can also be served without a dip into the deep fryer if you choose.
Pancit Bihon is a type of noodle-turned-traditional Filipino cuisine that originated in China. The rice noodle is customarily mixed with vegetables and meat. This recipe replaces meat with tofu, which picks up the flavors of the sauce during cooking. Find the highly-rated vegan pancit bihon recipe on Healthier Steps. There’s also this vegan Filipino pancit bihon version and a variation simply called vegetable pancit here.
If you’re looking for a classic Filipino experience, bistek fits the bill. It’s a quintessential combination that pairs salty, tangy and savory flavors. While this is traditionally achieved with beefsteak (as the name translates to), some creative cooks have put together alternatives that fit the vegan criteria. Try the vegan eggplant “bangus” steaks (Filipino milkfish steak) or rely on beets and shitake mushrooms to round out this bistek version.
Does any culture not celebrate dessert? We think not. If you’re exploring new culinary delights, it’s only right you follow through all the way to dessert. Remember that ube we mentioned in the ingredients above? Put it to use in this vegan ube flan cake. This isn’t a one-step or a one-pan dish. In fact, it has a list of parts, but if you burn the calories making it that counterbalances those when you eat it, right?
Another popular treat in the Philippines is Buko Pie. You may not see many vegan variations considering it’s typically made using evaporated milk, but we found this healthy AF vegan buko pie, and with a name like that how can you go wrong?
We would be remiss if we discuss Filipino desserts and didn’t mention halo-halo. However, it’s also a dairy-based drink, so you have to be a bit flexible to enjoy the experience. Dish it up using this halo halo vegan recipe or layer it up with this version.
Lead images via Pexels